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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Fingerprint Evidence Vindicated, 1920

A special distinction attaches to the trial of Dennis Gunn in 1920 for the murder of the postmaster at Ponsonby, Auckland (Augustus Edward Braithwaite), by reason of the fact that the verdict finally disposed of all attempts in New Zealand to discredit the conclusiveness of fingerprint evidence in the detection of crime. From then on there was judicial and official recognition of the dictum of Sir Samuel Griffith, Chief Justice of Australia, who said, “He who leaves a finger-print behind him, leaves an unforgetable signature”. The reliability of fingerprint identification was relentlessly challenged by the defence throughout the trial, but both the jury and Sir Frederick Chapman, on the Bench, accepted it completely in Gunn's case. Gunn waylaid his victim at his home in the evening, stole his keys after shooting him, and robbed the post office. His reward was £67 14s. 5 d., but in the process he left his fingerprints on several cashboxes, and also on a revolver that was later found in a nearby gully, together with a collection of 229 pennies. The evidence showed that the police relied almost entirely on fingerprints to find their man. The prints of more than a score of suspects were handled in the early stages of the investigation, but none was found to coincide with those in this case. Then the files were searched and duplicate prints were discovered; they belonged to a man named Gunn from whom they had been taken some years before when he was in trouble for evading military service. Gunn was arrested, stood his trial, and was sentenced to death. He was hanged in Mount Eden Prison, Auckland.